‘When in Rome,’ remember to take things lightly

By Kate MacDonald

(Courtesy Touchstone Pictures)

With a decent cast hobbled together from some of America’s finest television shows and a seemingly funny storyline, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson’s “When in Rome” was slated to be a hit.

Viewers, however, might take a different stance.

Kirsten Bell stars as workaholic Beth Harper, an aggressive art curator who must take time out of her busy schedule to attend the wedding of her impetuous little sister (Alexis Dziena) in – you guessed it – Rome. As evidenced on “Veronica Mars” and “Gossip Girl,” Bell is a cute and funny actress, but she seems better suited to the small screen. 

Once in Rome, Beth meets up with Nick, played perfectly by former “All My Children” and “Las Vegas” star Josh Duhamel. As a guy’s guy looking for true love, Duhamel shines, his performance running the gamut of lovelorn emotions.

Nevertheless, Nick is a thinly drawn character and the audience fails to get much of a sense of the character’s background or home life. A story about an accident in his college days serves as a focal point of the film, but viewers are left yearning to learn more about his character with little respite.

When Nick and Beth meet, sparks fly immediately and hilarity ensues at the reception. In one particularly humorous scene, they share a speech and a dance, which ends abruptly. Later, Beth, feeling hurt, plunges herself into the Fontana D’Amore (Fountain of Love), screaming at the beautiful statue about not believing in love. To cement her cynicism, she scoops up a handful of coins, thinking she’s saving their original owners from heartbreak.

Though the movie is titled “When in Rome,” only approximately 15 minutes of the film actually take place in the Italian hub. Beth returns to Manhattan shortly thereafter to find she’s unleashed a curse – the owners of the coins are now madly in love with her.

Her potential suitors add character to “When in Rome.” She must deal with four very different, flamboyant personalities. How convenient is it that out of the four coins she picked up, three happen to live in the same city as Beth? Convenient enough that it sheds a harsh light on the shaky premise Johnson has assembled for the film.

Dax Shepard (Bell’s real-life fiancé) co-stars as Gale, an egotistical male model who loves Beth at least as much as he loves himself, and that’s really saying something. Danny Devito (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) is Al, a sausage magnate looking for love later in life. Then there’s Lance, a street magician overplayed by Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite,” 2005’s “Just Like Heaven”), a character who had the potential to be amusing, but entirely missed the mark.

Best known for his turn on “Arrested Development,” Will Arnett appears as Antonio, an Italian artist who attempts to lay claim to Beth’s heart. Arnett did not seem to get as many lines as the other men, and as a result, “When in Rome” is a poor showcase of his talents. His time spent on camera, however, is full of physical comedy and enjoyable one-liners. However, the humor wrought by Arnett could be attributed to his horrible, heavily affected accent as easily as it could be to his comical prowess.

So Beth has to juggle the affections of these ridiculous men, trying to find a cure to the curse. However, “When in Rome” takes a different turn when she finds out that the fifth coin she took belongs to Nick, whom she’s been dating and subsequently falling in love with. What’s a girl to do?

The plot of the film, as a whole, seems predictable. Many times Bell’s character comes off as annoying and exaggerated. Additionally, the plotline of Beth and Nick’s love seems rushed, but when pitted against the other relationships at play, seems the most believable.

With uncomplicated camera shots and a good but forgettable soundtrack featuring Matchbox 20 and Jason Mraz, “When in Rome” will likely be lost in the archives of unremarkable romantic comedies of yore.

While good acting keeps “When in Rome” from failing, unexplored storylines and characters inhibit the film. In keeping with the film’s coin theme, some may suggest that it’s better for potential viewers to save their money and wait for the film to hit the half-off bin. You won’t hear any arguments here.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected].